There is a great church-y word that we never hear in normal conversation, don’t understand and usually skip right over it when we come across it. When we hear it our eyes glaze over and we become positively catatonic. What we actually hear – “blah-blah-ation.” That word is Propitiation. We find it in several New Testament verses.
… whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. (Romans 3:25).
He [Jesus] is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world. (1 John 2:2)
Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son [to be] the propitiation for our sins. (1 John 4:10)
The word propitiation simply means to appease or placate so that when God looks at our sin His wrath and condemnation are placated or satisfied by the blood of Jesus. In other words, because of the Blood God does not let loose His lightning bolts to smite us. He is no longer angry at us. But there is an even more beautiful word picture here. I’ll quote David Guzik:
A propitiation: The ancient Greek word for propitiation is also used in the Septuagint [Greek Old Testament] for the mercy seat, the lid covering the Ark of the Covenant, upon which sacrificial blood was sprinkled as an atonement for sin. While it might be said that this passage [1 John 2:2] means “Jesus is our mercy seat,” it probably has the more straightforward idea of propitiation – a substitute sacrifice.
At the same time, the “mercy seat” idea should not be neglected as an illustration of propitiation. Inside the Ark of the Covenant was the evidence of man’s great sin: the tablets of law; the manna received ungratefully; the budded rod of Aaron, showing man’s rejection of God’s leadership. Up over the Ark of the Covenant were the symbols of the holy presence of the enthroned God in the beautiful gold cherubim. In between the two stood the mercy seat, and as sacrificial blood was sprinkled on the mercy seat on the Day of Atonement (Leviticus 16), God’s wrath was averted because a substitute had been slain on behalf of sinners coming by faith. We really can say that Jesus is our “mercy seat,” standing between guilty sinners and the holiness of God.
Jesus our mercy-seat! It doesn’t get better or more beautiful than that. So by faith in “the Blood” we benefit from the propitious, covering, mercy-giving nature of His sacrifice. The Blood acts to cover us, hide us from the wrath of God for our sin. The notion of the Blood as representing the mercy seat is powerful. It is the Blood that allows God to see US as precious, accepted children and not objects of judgement and condemnation. We are freed from that condemnation as God sees the Blood and turns away from wrath to mercy. In mercy we are able to approach God. The Blood makes possible the re-introduction of Father to children.
So when I feel defeated by sin, when I think I’ve finally stepped over the line and God has just turned His back on me I remember the Blood. I step under the covering of the mercy seat and I thank God that Jesus bled on my behalf. I don’t have to cower or fear. God doesn’t see my sin instead He sees Jesus.